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|MOZARKS, ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING - FOR GOOD
May 31, 2016 - The Buffalo Reflex / Elvis Express Radio
After Elvis Presley’s appearance in Springfield in 1956, as he was shooting to the top of the charts, he continued to produce hit records, make movies and attract audiences to his
Elvis would star in 31 movies. He would have preferred to be a serious actor, but Colonel Parker wanted him to stick with the formula because it brought in the money. Many of the
soundtracks from those movies were huge sellers, even though the songs were often not very memorable.
Elvis would end up with an astounding 150 singles and albums that reached gold, platinum and multi-platinum status. He had 149 songs appear on Billboard’s Hot 100 pop chart,
and of those 114 hit the top 40, 40 were in the top 10, and 18 hit No. 1. More than a billion of his records have been sold across the world.
Elvis received 14 Grammy nominations and won three times — all three for gospel recordings. In 1969 he performed 57 shows at the International Hotel in Las Vegas that broke all
existing records for attendance at a Las Vegas show. In September 1970 he played at Kiel Auditorium once again. In 1972 he gave four sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden
in New York City. He returned to Kiel Auditorium for a concert in June 1973.
He was back at Kiel in March 1976. His 1977 summer tour’s first stop was at Hammons Student Center on the campus of what was then Southwest Missouri State in Springfield. I
happen to know something about this concert because I was there.
Some friends and I took turns holding a place in line for two days before the tickets went on sale at HSC. The tickets sold for $15, and you could buy up to 10 tickets. Some folks
bought the extras to sell. In early May, those scalped tickets were going for $150 each. The tickets sold out in a matter of hours.
Elvis arrived in town earlier on Friday for that evening’s performance, but not by train this time. The concert was scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m., and the doors opened at 7 p.m.
And it wasn’t long before all 9,085 available seats were filled.
Elvis’ concert appearances earlier in 1977 would have given me some inkling of what was to come, if I only had known. Elvis was overweight and taking way too many prescription
drugs. In the first eight months of 1977 his doctor prescribed him more than 10,000 doses of narcotics, sedatives and amphetamines, and it was taking its toll on him. In a couple of
concerts in February, he couldn’t remember the words to some of his hits.
I was disappointed at his performance in Springfield. He seemed to just be going through the motions and only really belted out one song out of the 19 in the set that evening. He
was pudgy, sweating profusely and practically out of breath at times.
Onstage with Elvis that evening in Springfield, as he had been since 1969, was rhythm guitarist John Wilkinson, who was another MOzarks connection. John’s family had moved to
Springfield when he was only a year old. His father established the psychology department at SMS in 1939 and taught there for decades. The family had a cabin at Lindenlure and
spent a lot of weekends there in the summer. John attended all grades at Greenwood Laboratory School on the SMS campus.
John began playing guitar at the age of 5 and was proficient by the age of 10 when he first met Elvis during the singer’s visit to the Shrine Mosque. John already was guitar-savvy
enough to know that a Martin D-18 acoustic guitar was to be treasured, so when he saw Elvis on TV beating on his Martin guitar like it was a drum, he was appalled.
Hearing on the radio that there would be an afternoon soundcheck at the Shrine Mosque, John rode his bicycle there, slipped in unnoticed and accosted Elvis, telling him not only
should he not treat his guitar that way, but that he also wasn’t a very good player.
Elvis was amused and handed the boy his guitar and told him to play. John did, and Elvis admitted that the kid was a pretty good player. In high school at Greenwood, John was
fond of the folk music that was big during that era. He joined a Springfield group called The Coachmen that played folk music.
After graduation he left Springfield to continue his music career, playing for the Chad Mitchell Trio, the New Christy Minstrels and his idols, the Kingston Trio.
John ran into Elvis a second time in Los Angeles in late 1964 or early 1965. In 1968, when Elvis was forming a new band to back him up, he remembered John, and the former
Springfieldian became his rhythm guitar player for the next decade.
After the concert in Springfield, Elvis gave a concert at Kemper Arena in Kansas City the next evening. Marsh Travel arranged for several buses — enough to hold 272 people from
this area — to take them to Elvis’ Saturday evening concert in Kansas City.
Those were to be his last concerts in the MOzarks and two of his last concerts ever. On Aug. 16, 1977, he was discovered unresponsive on his bathroom floor and pronounced
dead at the hospital. He was 42 years old.
Since his death, Elvis has been inducted into four prestigious halls of fame: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame, Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly
Hall of Fame. Even Elvis’ home in Memphis, Graceland Mansion, still attracts more than 600,000 visitors a year.
Elvis Presley was not a songwriter, nor a great musician, but he was a great singer. He was exceptional at any genre he sang. And according to people in the profession, he was a
genius at composition and production. His music left an impact on the American public, including the residents of the MOzarks.